Demolition of the Canaan house

Late this week the former Honorary Consulate of both Monaco and Germany was demolished in the Town of Highland Park, Dallas County, Texas. The house at 4700 Saint Johns Dr., had intrigued me over the many years I worked nearby. Sitting back from the streets on a half-acre corner lot overgrown with myrtle groundcover, the 1910 house was low-slung with a broad porch around two sides. Near the front door were the plaques designating the residence as a foreign consulate for Texas.

The residents were an elderly couple with a tiny pinkish unstyled poodle mix dog. Whenever we passed on the sidewalk they would smile, but stay quiet, even the little dog. I eventually learned their last name was pronounced kuh-NON, and that the tiny, frail man in the overcoat had been an architect. His wife seemed somewhat younger and stronger. I vaguely wondered if they were keeping a diplomat somewhere inside their house.

I'm not a hard-core preservationist. Old structures are expensive to maintain and to adapt for current uses. In most situations, owners need to be able to use their property to suit their needs. Still, I like to learn about the history of a property, and the lives of its owners. I was sad about the demolition in part because I suspect an over-the-top faux castle will soon replace it.

I didn't even know how to spell kuh-NON when I went searching for information about the house tonight. Gershon and Doris Canaan were interesting people to research. Doris Canaan was commended by the Texas State Senate for being the Honorary Consul of Monaco in January, 1973, according to papers in the University of Texas Library.

A German Jew whose family fled to Palestine before the Holocaust, Gershon Canaan contemplated his religious and cultural roots after his arrival in Texas. Mr. Canaan was the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany for Texas when he founded the Dallas Goethe Center in 1965 to promote reconciliation and understanding between Americans and Germans. The Dallas Goethe Center continues to promote those aims. The Center's 2002 memoriam of Gershon Canaan is beautifully written. Each time I read it I learn more. I hope the Center will not mind that I have reprinted it below. The influence of Mr. Canaan will last far beyond the demolition of his home.

The tiny man with the pinkish dog was also a student fellow of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in 1947-48. The house at 4700 Saint John's had a certain Wright Prairie Style feeling. Perhaps I can learn who designed the house when the book about Highland Park architecture becomes available in November.

Dallas, TX
June 29,2002
Dear members of the Dallas Goethe Center,

With great sadness I have to report to you that yesterday, June 28, 2002, Gershon Canaan, the Founding President of the Dallas Goethe Center, passed away in his sleep. A great life has ended.

Gerhard Kohn grew up in Friedenau, a small middle-class district in Berlin, between Steglitz and Schöneberg. Marlene Dietrich is from there, and I lived there shortly in the seventies. Promptly, with the "Machtergreifung" of the Nazis, the Kohn family had to go into hiding in the Bismarckstrasse in Charlottenburg. Gerhard's father was a banker with the Dresdner Bank, and therefore an immediate target for the SA. The Kohn family succeeded in fleeing to Palestine, where young Gerhard became Gershon Canaan, who attended the Technicon in Haifa to study architecture. Then came the war. Gershon volunteered for the "Jewish Brigade" of the British Armed Forces. He fought in both the African and European theaters. After the war, the Jewish Brigades were instrumental in secretly, and against British policy helping concentration camp survivors and Jews who had come out of hiding. These "displaced persons" were herded in camps mainly in Southern Germany. The Jewish Brigade helped these people break the British blockade of Palestine. Upon discharge from the military, Gershon went to the United States to further his studies in architecture. He became an apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, a compound near Scottsdale, Arizona. But soon, military duty called again. Israel had to defend herself in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Gershon now assumed the rank of captain and fought for the survival of Israel. Having that accomplished, he returned to the United States and ultimately settled in Texas, where he married Doris.

As his architecture practice thrived, Gershon found time to contemplate his religious roots as a Jew and his cultural roots as a German, and found them not mutually exclusive. Consequently, he set out to devote his life to promoting mutual understanding between Americans and Germans. He was a driving force behind the recreation of the "German Day in Texas", again celebrated on October 6, during the State Fair of Texas. He was the Founding President of the Dallas Goethe Center, an organization devoted to foster German language culture. He became the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany, and for all his accomplishments the German President bestowed upon him the Bundesverdienstkreuz. I mention the latter as the epitome of the all too numerous honors that Gershon Canaan had received. He enjoyed each one of them, and the brief limelight that came along with them.

A victim of the darkest hours of German history, Gershon was an unlikely candidate to become a leader in the German community in Texas. But it may have been just that; Gershon Canaan saw that for peace to happen there needs to be understanding between the people. So, in overcoming the divide caused by recent history Gershon Canaan became a giant of a man. A victim, a military hero, he became an architect of human relations, of reconciliation and understanding. His wife shared with me that Gershon was excited about the prospect of a "Goethe-Haus" in Dallas, and would have loved to design it. It is too late for that now, but following the wishes of the Canaan family, the obituary will suggest memorial donations to the Dallas Goethe Center. Hopefully, sometime in the future, Gershon's dream may come true. One thing is true: the Dallas Goethe Center will honor the memory of Gershon Canaan as long as it will exist.

Tillmann Hein

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine found and sent me this article. I see that it is dated and that I will be the first to add a comment to it, even so its a subject that I have a little knowledge and information about and I'm proud to be the first to comment. My name is Bobby Richardson and I just retired as a Captain for the Highland Park Department of Public Safety after 30 years of service and knew Gershon and Doris Canaan very well. Also Doris Canaan is a cousin to my wife Doris.

I believe that Gershon was a true hero and an amazing individual as you outlined regarding his service in the British Jewish Brigade and as a Captain in the Israeli Army. I considered him a friend and I was always warmly greeted by he and Doris. When Gershon passed away I donated a book "The Jewish Brigade" in his name to the Highland Park Library. Shortly after Gershon passed away I recieved a call from Doris to meet her at the house. When I arrived she presented me with the 32 caliber British issued revolver that he had carried in both WWII and first Arab-Isreal war, it is one of my most prized possessions.

I had the opportunity to be in the house several times. I believed the house to be an architectural marvel. Incorporated into the structure of the house (stairs) were several pieces of marble that came from the Merchantile building that was demolished downtown in the late 50's. I was told but never confirmed that there were many more historically significant items used when Gershon remodeled the house in the 60's. I saw other things in the house like a claw footed tub in the master bath.

Fortunately I retired before the house was demolished and did not have to witness its destruction.

Collagemama said...

Captain Richardson,

Thank you so much for your comment. It added to my understanding of the Canaans.

I've been working in Highland Park the past couple weeks, and find the new home being built on the lot is a big change from Gershon's house. It looks like a giant might roll over in one of the bedrooms and say, "Fee fi fo fum..."

We are so focused on celebrity now, we have lost sight of true heroism. Your gift is to be cherished.

habernews said...

I just happened across this two years later. What a shame. I was a graduate student at SMU 1971-72 and lived in the carport apartment behind the home. While only in the house a few times, I found it extraordinary, a house not to be demolished. They had a young son, David, but I guess he'd moved on long before this happened. I assume Doris has also either died or moved elsewhere. She was younger that Gershon but would have to be perhaps in her early 80s by now. She was a strong Texas native who contrasted so with Gershon, a man so unassuming in looks, one would never have guessed his past. Diane Voge

Life Extraordinary said...

As Doris's great-niece, I have to say we are touched by all of your memories and opinions. Both Doris and Gershon were extraordinary individuals whose life stories are more like "Big Fish" tales than anything true or real to the average man. The demise of the house was incredibly sad. We were able to salvage a few things, but many precious items were lost with the home. We all have very fond memories of the Canaan's and that house. It was a true treasure.

We lost Aunt Doris this year. She passed peacefully in California where she was being cared for by her son and his family.

Again, thank you for your kinds words.


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